Operations

What To Charge When A Limo Client Vomits

Jim Luff
Posted on July 26, 2019
One of the consequences of constantly moving people is a few will get sick, whether by car, plane, bus or train. Prepare your chauffeurs and vehicles for the inevitable. (LCT image via Getty)

One of the consequences of constantly moving people is a few will get sick, whether by car, plane, bus or train. Prepare your chauffeurs and vehicles for the inevitable. (LCT image via Getty)

During a recent business trip, as my plane sat on the runway holding for take-off, a passenger bolted out of her seat towards the lavatory. She didn’t make it and tossed her cookies toward the back of the plane. This prompted another passenger to lose her lunch as well. We were forced to return to the gate as the lead flight attendant and pilot declared the plane “unusable.”

This set off a chain of events that included rebooking flights for missed connections as well as bringing in lunch for more than 200 delayed passengers. It caused the pilots to exceed their hours of service rules and new ones had to be flown in. A bio-hazard team arrived in Tyvek suits with machines and chemicals. One girl caused literally thousands of dollars in unexpected costs. Better yet, let’s call it unexpected losses.

My First Incident

This fetid fiasco brought back a memory of the first puking incident I handled as a young chauffeur. I had driven an 87-year-old woman to a birthday party in a mountain area that included miles of winding two-lane roads filled with sharp curves. On the way home, she got sick and used her sweater to catch most of her dinner. I still remember the smell today nearly 30 years later. I quickly pulled over, grabbed some towels from the trunk, and proceeded to help her clean up after herself as well the seat and carpet. Latex gloves weren’t really common in 1990 so it was a bare-hand cleanup. I used water from the ice chest to wring the towels out at the trunk area. It was at this time that I lost my own dinner while squatting down so she couldn’t see me.

This would be the first of many incidents in my career which included projectile vomiting onto the headliner and dealing with other unmentionable nasty bodily fluids from passengers. If you have been in this business for any length of time, you know people sometimes urinate in vehicles. Whether it’s in their pants, an ice bucket, or trash can, drunk people do stupid things. It isn’t always drunk people though. Matt Assolin, CEO of Nikko’s Worldwide in Houston and Austin, Texas, experienced an elderly lady who wet her pants in the vehicle by accident. Her husband is a billionaire client of Nikko’s.

The Ethical Handling

I would never dream of charging an elderly lady a “puke fee.” That’s my own ethics. However, a night of debauchery among bachelors, a 21 year-old birthday girl or the prom kids who got drunk off the spiked punch would likely receive a $300 excessive clean-up charge. This charge was never intended to serve as a penalty or punishment for getting sick. I think of it as a recovery fee used to pay for a professional carpet shampoo and loss of use of the vehicle during the shampoo and drying time. In many cases, this fee doesn’t even come close to covering the actual losses.

However, I think it’s important to look at the circumstances leading up to the incident and treat it accordingly. It is unlikely that American Airlines charged the girl who got sick, although they incurred thousands of dollars in losses. They likely consider this an evil cost of doing business. When you transport humans, people will get sick on occasion. Douglas Schwartz, CEO of Executive Limousine in New York says, “We charge $0.00. Does Jet Blue charge?”

How Hotels Handle Vomit Incidents

Stacey Bui, a manager for Ramada Hotels, says the hotel chain would never consider charging a guest who got sick in their room and didn’t make it to their bathroom.

“Sometimes guests get sick in the bed and we have to toss the mattress,” says Bui, who added that a replacement mattress costs about $1,000. She says the hotel industry refers to their customers as guests and they are treated as such. You likely would not charge a guest in your home for a carpet shampoo if they got sick during a visit to your home but yet we think nothing of charging our client/passenger/guest when they get sick. They are likely already humiliated and then receive a bill for the incident to add insult to the embarrassment. Some of the charges are insanely high but yet, so is the cost of cleanup.

Good enough for planes, even better for limos. Strategically placed convenience bags are a subtle way of helping passengers avoid damaging or staining vehicles as a result of sudden illness. (LCT image by Jim Luff)

Good enough for planes, even better for limos. Strategically placed convenience bags are a subtle way of helping passengers avoid damaging or staining vehicles as a result of sudden illness. (LCT image by Jim Luff)

Solutions to Avoid Excessive Clean-Up

They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The most logical and easy solution is to provide a convenience bag just as you would find in the seatback pocket of every airline. They are available for about $1 each at skygeek.com.

Other options include training chauffeurs to recognize when vomiting could become an issue and teaching them to be tactful and classy about presenting a convenience bag, bucket, or even a plastic trash bag. It is not necessary to threaten people with a charge while presenting a vomit option. If it becomes necessary to charge your client a cleanup fee, they will know your chauffeur provided them with options. Remember, vomiting is also called, “getting sick,” so treat people kindly as if they are sick.

Who Cleans Up?

This is probably one of the biggest debates of the industry. Many operators leave it to the chauffeur to cleanup and give the chauffeur either all of the excessive cleanup fee collected or worse, they split it with the chauffeur. I’m not sure why operators feel entitled to make a profit off of the disgusting job of cleaning up vomit. However, the truth is chauffeurs are not qualified to do a proper cleanup and they certainly don’t have the proper equipment to do it right.

To properly clean and sanitize a vehicle so it won’t harbor lingering smells on a hot summer day, requires a professional steam cleaning and likely an ozone machine to be placed in the vehicle for several hours. It requires complete extraction down to the padding. This is best done by professionals.

A sample disclosure notice of any fines or fees charged due to vehicle damage caused by a client. (LCT image by Jim Luff)

A sample disclosure notice of any fines or fees charged due to vehicle damage caused by a client. (LCT image by Jim Luff)

The Big Picture

To the average person, they likely would think it’s as simple as cleaning up the vomit on the surface, spraying a little air-freshener, and calling it good. The truth is, a single vomit incident can create chaos. If the vehicle is scheduled to go out on another job, the job will have to be done in another vehicle. If you have another vehicle, the cleanup cost will be limited to a professional detailer. If you don’t have another vehicle, you will need to farm the job out.

Depending on the number of hours of that job, you could lose money. You will have to pay your affiliate to do the job and make minimal profit. Your vehicle will likely be out of service for 24 hours, meaning you are unable to take additional orders for that vehicle. All of this combined can easily climb above a $1,000 loss.

Related Topics: chauffeur behavior, customer service, difficult clients, How To, maintenance, retail markets, stretch limousine, vehicle repairs

Jim Luff Contributing Editor
Comments ( 4 )
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  • MIKE HARTMANN

     | about 3 months ago

    I use to have this problem B4 I did the following. Main goal is to not have people puke. I tell my Chauffeurs to tell people at time of pick-up (if they are going bar hopping/etc. or picking up at a bar and they are already tipsy). That we want them to have fun but if anyone gets sick we will have to charge them $200.00. When people are already drunk I have seen them throw up outside B4 they get in, start to sober up, throw up in the bar at the next stop or etc. If you tell people after they get sick in your vehicle they will argue with you that you knew what we were doing you have people getting sick all the time why are you picking on us/etc. If you told them ahead of time, they have no issues on paying you, but again you do not want them to get sick in the vehicle. By doing this I have been puke free for the last 5 years. Side note you need to be careful who the Chauffeurs tells (you do not tell them at the time of booking, you want all the people in the vehicle to know). A Chauffeur told people that were only going out to eat, dressed in nice clothes Million dollar home/etc. They later called me complaining that it was rude for the Chauffeur to give them that speech. So again be careful who you say something to.

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